Dame Edna Review at the Ahmanson - Sidesplitting

Dame Edna is just one stage persona of Australian actor-comedian Barry Humphries -- finally, the secret is out!

Be Sure to Catch Her 'First Last Tour'

(Los Angeles, CA - June 10, 2009) Dame Edna, billed as "the widely loved international homemaker, talk-show host, gigastar, fashion icon, guru, swami and most-sought-after friend of the rich, famous and royal" is back yakking it up at the Ahmanson in "My First Last Tour" where she played in "Dame Edna: Back with a Vengeance!" in 2006. 

For more than four decades Dame Edna has dazzled audiences the world over with her one-of-a-kind banter, infinite wisdom and fabulous beauty tips. She won a 2000 Special Tony Award for a Live Theatrical Event for her Broadway debut in "Dame Edna: The Royal Tour," which also won a Drama Desk Award and an Outer Critics Circle Special Achievement Award.

Created by Australian actor, author, painter, composer and race-car driver Barry Humphries, Dame Edna is a national icon in her native Australia.

Georja: Humphries created Edna years ago as one of a series of sketch comedy characters.  Edna became ever more popular each time he brought her out, and so he continued to develop her in between his regular acting gigs in films and theater. Now she is a full-blown persona known internationally and going strong.

Gerald: Throughout this review, we can't help but talk about Edna, as she, because the persona, however exaggerated and larger than life, just seems so real and endearing as a woman. In fact, the "legend" Humphries created is that he's her unscrupulous manager, who signed her to a lifetime contract from which she can't escape. The show program follows through with this conceit, giving Humphries and Edna Everage not only separate billing but also separate bios. I found myself gawking at her thinking, 'She's got great legs for an old gal,' then realizing, 'no, that guy has such spindly legs!'

Edna tosses bunches of gladioli into the audience. "Now wave your gladdy!"

Georja: Humphries knows how to brand his character. The excitement already started to build as we approached the theater.  Outside there were fans wearing classic Dame Edna glasses with their bejeweled flairs.  As we entered the Ahmanson, we saw he had already put her special stamp on it - bright purple curtains and her image on a scrim.  Eccentric yodeling music was filling up any dead space and getting the audience in the mood for her outlandish humor.

Gerald: I was relieved she didn't yodel during her act - or make any audience members try it!

Georja: Before we were graced with her physical presence, the audience was treated to a video presentation of an "Inside Hollywood"-type gossip show of Dame Edna, exposing her as a harsh woman with "stage rage" hiding behind her friendly demeanor, a woman who abuses her family and desperately clings to her celebrity trappings. Very funny.

Gerald: The video also sets up her fictional family. Her son Kenny is her dress designer, a frail and sensitive young man shunned in macho-heavy Australia. And "friends of Kenny" will become her code-word for the gay members of the audience, a sizeable group.

The grande dame claims it was ten years ago tonight she set foot on an American stage.

Georja: And then the Dame enters in her hot-pink, glittering, ruffled, over-the-top dress and purple hair.  She is charming and fun.  The most fun is her banter with the audience.  She tells us she has been here in L.A. not that long ago, and that "you have aged tragically, especially you --" (as she singles some embarrassed audient) "yet I have not."  She alternates between harassing the audience "for their own good," of course, and delivering some hilarious bits about her adopted African child that she got "in the same village where Madonna shops."

Gerald: She picks on the audience mercilessly, using time-tested improv techniques fueled by jokes that may be just as old, but customized to the local venue.

Georja: She makes fun of the folks in the balcony seats, "a slightly poorer type of person" and warns them to cling onto their seats with one hand when they clap, as she doesn't want a "downpour of the disadvantaged."  She says they are mostly "hedge fund managers and friends of Bernie" who used to sit down front.  She says she will give them a new title, the "nouveaux pauvres" but she also likes to call them "les miserables."  She tells them not to worry, she will glance upstairs at them "in strict proportion to the amount you paid." All this is said with a loving, lilting voice.  I never laughed so hard.  I think she is the best stand-up comic I have ever seen.

Gerald: The comic grudge match of the century would be Everage and Rickles in Vegas. Bloody good!

Georja: She further works the audience by asking for names and neighborhoods they are from, and what kind of house they have. Then she goes on to make endless fun of their responses.

Gerald: Cross-examining one unfortunate, she sneers, "Do you live on the right side of Wilshire, dear?"

Georja: She gets them onstage for a simulated HBO talk-show pilot.  She also sings with the help of piano player Andrew Ross, also credited as a writer. Actress Erin-Kate Whitcomb joins her for a few brief scenes and one great comic song as her daughter Valmai.

Over the top? Hardly, darling.

Gerald: Valmai, turns out to be hot for girls. Edna says she forswears political correctness, and if you have sensitivities in that area, be warned. No one in the audience on opening night seemed to mind. They were laughing too hard. She picked on a half-dozen audience members, including a woman who stood up abruptly to rush to the bathroom, a couple of seniors, and an eleven-year-old girl. "Don't worry, dear," Edna quips, "Mummy will explain anything you don't understand - although it might take all night."

Georja: I would highly recommend this show to anyone who wants to laugh. Edna deserves all the fame and success she has. And as a final treat, her creator Barry Humphries comes out at the end as himself, magically devoid of all Dame Edna makeup and paraphernalia, to say goodnight to his adoring audience.

Georja Umano is an actress/comedienne and animal advocate.
Gerald Everett Jones is the author of the Rollo Hemphill series of comic novels.

Photos by Greg Gorman

Dame Edna: My First Last Tour

Ahmanson Theatre
Center Theatre Group
601 W. Temple Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 628-2272

June 9 - 21, 2009
Tues. - Sat. 8 p.m.
Sat. - 2 p.m.
Sun. - 3 p.m.

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